The Clash song “London Calling,” is defined as twofer, being the title and leadoff track to arguably one of the greatest albums in rock history. And chess-wise, there was another “London calling” twofer this week, with not only the 9th London Chess Classic kicking off, but also the UK capital announced as the venue for Magnus Carlsen to defend his World Championship title – against the winner of the Berlin Candidates in March – in a 12-game match to be held from November 9th to 28th, 2018.
With impeccable timing, with the massed chess media already in the city for the London Chess Classic, Carlsen, FIDE and Agon/World Chess made the official announcement. The actual venue has yet to be announced, although the organizers say they have already short-listed several options. And again, the prize fund is the Fide’s minimum of $1m.
The announcement was made on the eve of the London Classic which will also be the final leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour. In the overall GCT standings, Carlsen is in first-place, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is in second and Levon Aronian is off the pace in distant third – and it is really down to a two-horse race with Aronian’s chances of coming in first overall being very slim.
If MVL comes in clear first he’s guaranteed of a rapid playoff against Carlsen if the latter comes in clear second, while anything less would give the Frenchman overall victory. Obviously, if Carlsen wins or even ties for first, he’s guaranteed victory in the 2017 Tour and a take-home bonus of $100,000 on top of the $75,000 tournament first prize.
And in the past, London has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the World Champion. Since 2009, Carlsen has dominated the London Chess Classic, winning four of the eight editions. But this edition could be the one he covets most of all, as Carlsen really won’t want to go through a full calendar year without a round-robin classical tournament victory to his name.
The London Chess Classic also had a bit of a twist this year, with the opening round staged in the grandiose and very futuristic Google Headquarters, Pancras Square, London. It proved to be something of a tranquil affair despite the atmospheric backdrop, with all five games ending in relatively peaceful draws, and with it the players heading to an early rest day on Saturday.
Admittedly, it is unusual to have a rest day after the opening round, but the chance to showcase one of the world’s top tournaments in a global tech-giant’s HQ – where the leading AI company DeepMind, run by chess enthusiast Demis Hassabis, is situated – couldn’t be turned down, and play will resume again on Sunday at the usual location at the Kensington Olympia Conference Center. Also, there’s live coverage throughout with the usual top commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley.
Photo | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)
Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Aronian
Carlsen ½-½ Caruana
Adams ½-½ Karjakin
Nakamura ½-½ Anand
So ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Viswanathan Anand
9th London Chess Classic, (1)
Reti’s Opening/Reversed Grünfeld
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c5 4.0-0 g6 5.d4 In effect, we are in a Reversed Grünfeld Defence – but the extra move for White generally stands for nothing, unless Black opts to walk right down one of the big main-lines, such as the Exchange Variation. 5…cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bg7 7.Nb3 Nc6 8.Nc3 e6 9.e4 d4 10.Na4 The knight isn’t misplaced on a4, as the c5-square is a good target, and also White will have c3 to exchange off Black’s d-pawn. 10…0-0 11.c3 dxc3 12.Nxc3 e5 13.Be3 Bg4 14.f3 Be6 15.Nc5 Qe7 16.Nxe6 Qxe6 17.Qd2 Nakamura has the bishop-pair – but can he make anything of it? 17…Rfd8 18.Qf2 Bf8 A timely move, as the dark-squared bishop had no prospects whatsoever on g7. 19.h3 Bb4 20.Rac1 Rd3 21.Rfd1 Rad8 22.Rxd3 Taking the a7-pawn is simply just “asking for it”: 22.Bxa7? Rxd1+ 23.Nxd1 (23.Rxd1?? Rxd1+ 24.Nxd1 Qd6 wins a piece.) 23…Rd2! 24.Qb6 Qxa2 and already White is in a bad way, with Black’s active pieces menacingly poised to strike. 22…Rxd3 23.Bf1 Rd8 24.a3 Be7 Voluntarily ceding the bishop-pair, with 24…Bxc3 25.Rxc3, would be foolhardy playing against someone like Nakamura. 25.g4 Kg7 26.Kh2 h6 27.h4 All the other games of the opening round, more or less, had a cautious, safety-first feel to them – but Nakamura by nature opts to go “all-in” with a risky attack that Anand proves more than a match for. 27…Nd4 28.g5 hxg5 29.hxg5 Nh7! Nakamura now has, what Levon Aronian described on the live broadcast, as a “wobbly g5-pawn” – and it is only his combative nature that keeps him in the game now. 30.Bh3 Qb3 31.f4 I’m sure that Nakamura felt he was “trying to make things happen” here with his aggressive play – but it is more than likely he may simply have missed Anand’s finesse that suddenly highlights a potential dark-square weakness around the White king. 31…Nc6! 32.Nd5 exf4 Suddenly, White’s position is beginning to creak at the seams a little with vulnerable pawns, a dark-square weakness, and a potentially exposed king. 33.Bxf4 Bxg5 34.Bxg5 Nxg5 35.Qf6+ Kh6 36.Bg2 Nh7 37.Qxf7 With both kings exposed to the elements, It’s the critical moment of the game – and now Anand misses a subtle finesse. 37…Rf8 The live commentary team and all the playing engines were “bigging up” 37…Qxb2!? with a subtle point behind it. If 38.Rh1 then now 38…Rf8! 39.Qc7 Qf2! and Black has the better prospects with the White king the more vulnerable to being attacked. 38.Qc7 The main reason 37…Qxb2 first was better, is that it avoided a forcing line that guarantees easy equality that Nakamura misses. Instead, White should have played: 38.Rc3! Qxc3 forced, otherwise Black’s king gets hit with Rh3+ etc. 39.Qxf8+ Nxf8 40.Nxc3 and the game will soon be a draw. As it is, Nakamura leaves Anand with a little hope in the position – however, with a couple of very accurate moves, Nakamura nullifies Anand’s advantage. 38…Qxb2 39.Rh1 Qf2! Which king is the more vulnerable? 40.Kh3 Rf7 41.Qg3 Qb2 For obvious reasons, with Nakamura’s king being the more vulnerable (Anand’s king at least has some protection), Anand want’s to keep the queens on the board here – but his best hope was to play 41…Kg7!? 42.Qxf2 Rxf2 43.Rb1 b6 44.Rc1 Ne5 although it is difficult to see Black making anything of his material advantage here with there being so few pieces and pawns left on the board now. 42.Ne3! [see diagram] It takes a very brave player to voluntarily retreat his knight from the all-dominant d5 square. But Nakamura is nothing if not brave and creative, and this is the only way he can stay in the game, by preventing Black from playing …Kg7, which now would be very strongly meet by Nf5+ etc. 42…Nf6 Anand’s last hope to try to pretend he has the upper-hand, with 42…Qd4 but after 43.Rd1! Ng5+ 44.Kh2 Nf3+! 45.Bxf3 Qxe3 46.Bg2 Qxg3+ 47.Kxg3 but yet again, with so few pieces and pawns left on the board, it is hard to see this not quickly becoming a draw now. 43.Bf3 Kh7 44.Nf5! ½-½ A wild game ends in a spirited draw, as 44…Qxa3 (Definitely not 44…gxf5?? as 45.Rh2! should turn the tables with the queen being kicked off the second rank, as there’s no way to stop ….Kg2+ with a mating attack.) 45.Kg2+ Nh5 46.Qg5 Qb2+ 47.Kg1 Qb1+ 48.Kg2 Qb2+ leads to a repetition.